Title: Techniques of the Selling Writer
Author: Dwight V. Swain
Genre: Non-fiction, Writing Instruction
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press; 1965
Length: 323 pages
This is the best book I’ve read on how to write fiction. Yes, the title sounds sleazy but the information is sound. Swain breaks down exactly how to write an absorbing story from detail to big picture as well as beginning to end.
Swain starts out explaining why readers read – to feel worry, tension, and release in a safe way. He then goes on to describe how to write emotion, reaction, and dialog using motivate-reaction units. Those units are the building blocks of scene and sequel, two concepts Swain writes about in great detail. He explains the difference between a scene (time of intense action and conflict in a book) and a sequel (time of reflection and decision), describes why these two concepts are the building blocks of your story, how to write them using motive-reaction units, and how to use them to build your plot. Building on this knowledge, he goes on to describe how to write a story from beginning to middle to end, how to write characters readers care about, how to plan your story, how to sell your story, and some thoughts on being a writer.
Since this book was published in 1965 I’d assumed that it would be dated, but I was surprised just how applicable it was to my writing. Sure it’s a bit sexist and many of the examples are from old pulp fiction, but the basic information is dead-on useful.
This is one of those books I had to read several times. I read it straight though the first time and outlined it the second time over a period of months. After the outlining I noticed a change in the quality of my writing. I still take out this book and refer to it whenever I’m feeling stuck in my story or want to improve some aspect of my writing.
One of my fellow writer’s group members always had exciting plot ideas but his writing fell flat in a way that I couldn’t pinpoint so I gave him this book. He declared it the “best book on writing” he’d ever read. A few months later he shared his new story. Wow. There was a marked change in the quality of his writing. So if you’re looking to improve your writing, you might give this book a try.